Dune Drifter (2020)

Dune Drifter first published by VODzilla.co

Marc Price’s feature debut Colin (2008) was notoriously made for under £100, and it at times really shows – but it also reinvigorated the zombie genre by showing an urban outbreak uniquely from a zombie’s point of view. Which is to say that the aptly named Price instantly became associated with delivering ambitious ideas on a very low budget, and he has been doing it ever since. His darkly comic road movie Magpie (2013), his metacinematic action film Nightshooters (2018) and his double-crossing oater A Fistful of Lead (2018) were all made for considerably more than £100, but still show a filmmaker stretching his resources to their limits and punching above his weight in pursuit of grand genre goals. That is certainly true of his latest, Dune Drifter, a survivalist sci-fi that draws as much inspiration from the inventive cost cutting of Roger Corman or the quarry locations of Doctor Who as from the expensive spectacles of the Star Wars franchise or the similarly titled Dune (David Lynch, 1984; Denis Villeneuve, 2021).

From the start, budget is thematised within the narrative, as pilot Yaren (Daisy Aitkens) and her gunner Adler (Phoebe Sparrow) must resort, in the middle of a rainbow-coloured hyper leap through space, to fixing their ship’s dodgy ‘plasma injector’ by giving it a good whack. With its analogue switches and improvised maintenance, this shaky two-person fighter craft is being held together on a wing and a prayer – and as such serves as a vivid metaphor for Dune Drifter itself, which for all its shoestring restrictions, can still get you where you need to go in the end. Or at least that is what Adler hopes – for after her unit of seven fighter ships, on a mission over Erebus that was supposed to be a “donkey’s gallop, short and sweet”, is overwhelmed by enemy forces, she and Yaren come crashing down onto the planet. Now, even as her life support is running out in extremely hostile conditions and the vessel is missing a key working part, Adler is left to face alone both an aggressive local beast, and a trio of super-tough enemy ‘Drekks’  (all played by Simon Dwyer-Thomas) who have crashlanded nearby, and are equally desperate to get back home alive. 

Dune Drifter merges its space operatics with a bleak brand of realism. When the fighter craft are hit, their occupants do not simply dematerialise with a convenient cleanness, but are shown screaming and slowly dying in flames – and in scenes which evoke the apocalyptic harshness of Anders Elsrud Hultgreen’s Dawn (Morgenrøde, 2014), real locations in Iceland are made to serve as the barren rocky landscapes of Erebus. Adler’s violent engagements with the Drekks, when they come, are truly brutal affairs, with life-or-death stakes. While there may be hints here and there, Starship Troopers-style, that the Drekks (apparently named for the Yiddish word for ‘shit’) and the humans are more alike in their colonial aspirations – and their will to survive – than they care to admit, the action in Dune Drifter is so breathlessly paced that the viewer has time to ponder these moral niceties only after the final credits have rolled.  

Summary: Marc (Colin) Price brings a brutal intensity to his shoestring survivalist space opera.